A passing comment by Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer has revealed that the release of Office 14 is to be pushed back to 2010, for reasons unknown.

During a “stragegy update” conference, PC Mag's Mark Hackman noticed Ballmer letting slip that the “next big innovation milestone [...] Office 14, our next Office release, will not be this year.” The reason for the delay isn't known – but has been confirmed by BetaNews – but Ballmer did also mention that despite no fully-fledged Office release this year the company will be launching updated versions of collaboration package Sharepoint, enterprise communications system Exchange, and the web-based Office Live document storage system.

Office 14, which comes as the successor to Office 12 – no-one could accuse Microsoft of failing to accommodate superstitious consumers – was originally due in the first half of 2009. Many believe that with the software mostly completed the delay is not technical but tactical, with the company looking to launch Windows 7 and Office 14 as close together as possible – in a similar move as the launch of Windows Vista and Office 12, which were but a few weeks apart.

Another interesting titbit for those keeping an eye on office suites is that Microsoft saw the need to drop the cost of Office 12 world-wide after the success of the open-source OpenOffice.org project saw many people eschewing the expensive proprietary suite in favour of a solution both free-as-in-speech and free-as-in-beer. This lower pricing structure is expected to continue with Office 14, as the competition from both web-based systems such as Google Docs and open-source offline office suites increases.

The final bit of news to come from Ballmer's briefing is the release of a lightweight version of Windows Server dubbed Foundation Edition, which will have lower system requirements and a smaller cost to OEMs. The move comes as an attempt to revitalise the small and home office server market by encouraging manufacturers to release 'netbook'-style servers – low-cost devices which are capable of a subset of functions that would be ordinarily performed by more expensive hardware.

Do you mourn the delay of Office 14, or are you still getting to grips with the new look of the last Office release? Perhaps you're more interested in Windows Server Foundation Edition? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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